SANTA CLARA – Citing the economic boon they feel an 83-acre resort-style development will be for the community, the Santa Clara City Council, by majority vote during a special meeting Wednesday, approved a zone change allowing a resort development to move forward in the South Hills area.
Located on the south end of Gates Lane and on the south side of Clary Hills Drive and extending upslope and to the south, the development is slated to include over 450 short-term rental residential units.
Intended to take advantage of the mountain biking and general outdoor sports mecca that southwest Utah, and more particularly the South Hills area, has become, proposed resort amenities include cycling and walking paths, a restaurant and a mountain biking pro shop where guests, as well as the public, may rent mountain bikes and have their bikes repaired.
Members of the City Council said the development hope to capture dollars for Santa Clara and not lose them to St. George where a plethora of food and lodging options already exist.
“Have the money come to Santa Clara, not St. George,” Councilwoman Mary Jo Hafen said.
Bringing in the resort development, which is set to be built in eight phases over the next 15 to 20 years, will provide the city with a much needed economic boost, Councilman Herb Basso said.
The first phase of the project will not involve the hundreds of short-term rental units, but rather 21 residential dwelling units built in the craftsman style. These units will be operated in a bed and breakfast fashion, representatives of the Split Rock Development Group said. Phases two through eight will include the vacation rentals.
Santa Clara has a goal of ultimately morphing part of its downtown – the area along Santa Clara Drive – into a commercial area, said Rex Oliver, chair of the city’s Economic Development Commission.
The commission envisions homes along the city’s main street being lined with businesses based out of the various homes there. While there are some businesses here and there, it is anticipated by city officials that the draw of the South Hills area resort will bring in enough tourism to support a downtown business district.
“We see tremendous opportunity for having visitors come,” Oliver said. “The EDC supports this zone change.”
Members of the City Council also said the development will help the city overall by providing much needed tax revenue.
Santa Clara gains much of its tax base from property taxes. Businesses brought in by the resort development would bring in sales tax revenues that could help keep current property tax rates from going up, members of the council said.
Though there was no public hearing scheduled at the council meeting, Mayor Rick Rosenberg allowed many of those gathered in the packed council chambers to speak after filling out a request to do so early on.
Numerous residents who currently reside near the future resort and its many short-term rentals spoke in opposition to the zone change.
“No one wants vacation rentals,” resident Denise Webster said while presenting the council with a petition 500-signatures strong against the zone change.
If she had known a resort with over 450 short-term rentals was going to be built near where she built her own home, Webster said, she would have gone elsewhere.
Objections to the resort’s short-term rentals related to worries over increased traffic and safety. The character of individuals who would be using the rentals was also questioned as concerns over possible criminal activity were mentioned.
The renters, the residents said, will just take advantage of the area and be nowhere as invested in the community as longtime residents are.
Residents also expressed worries that the development will forever change the small town feel Santa Clara currently enjoys.
“You will lose the charm of Santa Clara,” one man said.
“This is going the change our community forever,” Webster said.
Suggestions were made for the council to table the zone change or even put it to a public vote.
“This is a difficult decision and not one I’ve taken lightly,” Councilman Jarett Waite said. However, he also said he sees the downtown going downhill if the resort project is shot down.
Still, Waite mentioned other vacation rental developments in Santa Clara that are already operating or underway. Just how many should be allowed in the city?
“We’re basically becoming a hospitality town,” Waite said.
He went on to echo the sentiment that the development could be an economic bonus for the city in the form of employment opportunities, new tax revenue and even investment opportunities for residents who buy rental units.
The zone change ultimately passed 4-1 with Councilman Kenneth Sizemore being the dissenting vote.
Sizemore said he isn’t very comfortable with allowing so much land being used with a single purpose, particularly since it was one of the last major areas of undeveloped land left in the city.
The South Hills project has been in the works to the last 18 months with the developers revising their plans for the area based on resident input. Initially the developers wanted to put 112 condo units at the south end of Gates Lane that would be used a vacation rentals.
Since then the developers dropped the 112 units in favor of the 21 residential-style units while also not including vacation rentals in the first phase of the project.
St. George News reporter Hollie Reina contributed to this report.
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